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Best Films of 2015

Gollancz Editorial Manager Charlie gives his rundown on the best films of last year, based on UK cinema release dates.

Honourable Mentions: Big Hero 6, Sicario, Song of the Sea, Tangerine, Wild

20. Dope (dir. Rick Famuyiwa)
Wonderfully energetic and freewheeling, with one of the few good uses of a voiceover in a non-Scorsese film, and it was nice to see Tony Revolori again after The Grand Budapest Hotel.

19. Clouds of Sils Maria (dir. Olivier Assayas)
One of those fascinating character studies where the lines betwen fact and fiction are hazy throughout. Easily Kristen Stewart’s best role to date, and Juliette Binoche is as good as ever.

18. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (dir. J. J. Abrams)
The Franchise Re-Awakens. New characters you care about, plenty of (intentional) humour, Harrison Ford looking like he cares for the first time in years…we’ll have to see what future instalments hold, but for now Star Wars is something to be excited about again.

17. The Martian (dir. Ridley Scott)
Shock as Ridley Scott makes his first great film in possibly over thirty years! A big, optimistic crowd-pleaser, the sort of thing we see so little of these days. Loved the ensemble cast as well.

16. Mommy (dir. Xavier Dolan)
Expertly done melodrama, with a trio of great performances from the leads and some intense scenes. I can even forgive Dolan’s hilariously cheesy music tastes throughout the film. And the fact that the precocious git is 26 and has made five films already…

15. Selma (dir. Ava DuVernay)
A vital historical document (like with Lincoln, it does a very good job of capturing the tensions between the protagonists) anchored by an immense central performance from David Oyelowo. Probably the most ridiculous lack of an Oscar nomination since Paul Giamatti in Sideways.

14. Carol (dir. Todd Haynes)
This film feels like you have dived into the 1950s, such is the level of period detail. Beautifully made, it’s touching on the nature of love and emotional repression.

13. Coherence (dir. James Ward Byrkit)
Starts out as straightforward drama and gradually evolves into something far more sinister and mind-bending. Even after a few viewings I feel like there’s more details I haven’t yet picked up on. Plus Nicholas Brendon!

12. The Duke of Burgundy (dir. Peter Strickland)
Another film which deals expertly with the nature of love, lust, repression and what we do to try and make those we love happy. Also features the funniest masturbation scene of the year.

11. The Lobster (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)
There seems to be a trend in this list so far for films with ambiguous endings. Good to see a world cinema director bucking the usual trend of becoming unstuck with a first foray into English language film. The Lobster is bracingly funny (it will probably make single people feel a bit better) and it’s enjoyable seeing the likes of Michael Smiley and John C. Reilly co-starring with the likes of Lea Seydoux and Rachel Weisz.

10. Avengers: Age of Ultron (dir. Joss Whedon)
There may be too much setting up of future films, but this sequel delivered much of what I loved about its predecessor. Plenty of sparky Whedon dialogue, fun characters, the first decent MCU villain that isn’t Loki, it was the most enjoyable blockbuster I saw this year by far (well, OK, second most).

9. Dear White People (dir. Justin Simien)
I’m baffled as to why this didn’t get a proper cinema release over here (credit to Prince Charles Cinema for screening it). The film Beyond the Lights didn’t get one either, which makes me wonder if black cinema struggles for distribution over here sometimes. Dear White People has plenty of sharp jokes which had me laughing plenty and it feels hugely relevant in the current climate. A Do the Right Thing for the 21st Century.

8. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (dir. Isao Takahata)
Astoundingly beautiful animation from the ever-reliable Studio Ghibli, and one that makes me want to go back and watch previous films by Takahata (but never Grave of the Fireflies of course, that’s too much). Two sequences in particular look stunning.

7. Mad Max: Fury Road (dir. George Miller)
So who expected this film to be this good? I’ll just note three points in the film and my thoughts/emotions at the time:
The guy with the guitar flamethrower – laughing out of sheer disbelief
The end of the first chase sequences – what the fuck did I just watch?!
Those guys on poles in the final chase sequence – laughing out of even more sheer disbelief.

6. Amy (dir. Asif Kapadia)
Asif Kapadia strikes gold again after Senna. Amy is a desperately sad documentary, and in its own understated way, quite an angry one as it indicts everyone from the people around Amy Winehouse to the press to Winehouse herself for her death. On the flipside it’s a welcome reminder of her talent that was sadly lost. Can’t wait to see where Kapadia goes next.

5. It Follows (dir. David Robert Mitchell)
A simple idea, well told. Creepy and unsettling, and always has you on edge with every frame, trying to see what might be coming. It also makes expert use of its setting and its terrific score. Both Mitchell and Maika Monroe deserve to make it big on the back of this.

4. Inherent Vice (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)
I can see why people walked out of this, at times it frustrates as it grinds to a near-standstill. But I still loved it, it captivated me with a sort of woozy charm, the cast is fantastic (especially Joaquin Phoenix, who can’t stop putting in great performances of late) and it’s funny as hell, possibly the funniest film I saw this year.

3. Whiplash (dir. Damien Chazelle)
I’m not a fan of jazz, and I watched the final scene of the film utterly entranced. In Dear White People a character remarks that jazz is about tension, and Whiplash is certainly about tension. And a lot of emotional explosions where you can’t tear your eyes away. And some people who completely miss the point of the film. Also features the best awkward dinner table scene of the year (as well as the most excruciating break-up scene). Both this and Inherent Vice lost the Adapted Screenplay Oscar to The Imitation Game? Oh dear, it’s A Beautiful Mind winning all over again…

2. The Look of Silence (dir. Joshua Oppenheimer)
I struggle with words for this one. All I can say is it is just as powerful, just as harrowing and just as vital as The Act of Killing. It quietly and persistently lays bare terrible crimes in a way you wouldn’t think possible. And if you are interested in documentaries at all, you should see both.

1. Inside Out (dirs. Pete Docter, Ronnie del Carmen)
After the last few years, this was essentially Pixar’s equivalent of a mic drop. And I knew I was going to love it from the opening magical seconds of Michael Giacchino’s score. Along with this year’s Song of the Sea, it makes the brave move of tackling negative experiences and making it clear that these happen, but there are positive things that can come from them and that we should not try to deny them. Like the best Pixar, it’s gloriously funny in places, and devastating in others (anyone who has seen it knows exactly what bit I am talking about in particular). And like the best Pixar it bursts with ideas and moments that seemingly only they could come up with. I loved it unreservedly.